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Pastor Frederick Price's 'FaithDome' : Largest Church in Nation Set to Open Doors in L.A.

September 09, 1989|JOHN DART | Times Religion Writer

On a spur-of-the-moment visit several years ago to Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose in Long Beach, the Rev. Frederick K. C. Price had a vision.

"When we walked in that building to see the airplane, I said, 'This is what we need,' " Price recalled in a recent interview.

Price immediately scrapped earlier construction plans and decided instead to build a domed church modeled after the building that houses the enormous wooden seaplane.

On Sunday, the nation's largest house of worship--a "FaithDome" with seating for 10,145 worshipers--will open for regular services in South-Central Los Angeles.

"They always say we can't do it, and we can--right in the ghetto," said church member Jannette Fant, referring to skepticism about the grandiose project she said she encountered from her white co-workers at a local aerospace company.

The $9-million geodesic structure at the old Pepperdine University campus on Vermont Avenue was built for what may be the largest predominantly black church in the country, Crenshaw Christian Center. The still-growing congregation of more than 16,000 people already is the largest Protestant church in Southern California.

The gleaming church-in-the-round throws an unaccustomed spotlight on Pastor Fred Price and his high-energy, tightly run minis try--despite his shunning of publicity and his policy of keeping out of community issues.

Price has quietly carved out both a successful nationwide television ministry, and has built a well-to-do church--with an annual budget between $16 million and $20 million--that sets him apart from nearly all other inner-city congregations.

The generosity of Price's flock amazes church leaders. Crenshaw Christian Center paid the balance owed on the $14-million campus last May, years ahead of schedule.

When Price leads churchgoers into the FaithDome at 9:30 a.m. Sunday, there will be only $2 million left to pay on the $9-million building.

Price's low profile apparently has spared him criticism over that much money going into property and buildings rather than social programs, which are limited at the church to a day-care facility and a weekly drug and alcohol recovery program.

The Rev. William R. Johnson, a Compton pastor who co-chairs the South Central Organizing Committee, said: "I have not heard one fellow pastor speak critically or positively of Fred Price."

Ills of Society Stressed

However, Johnson stressed that churches "have to be actively involved in correcting the ills of our society. I don't think we can isolate ourselves spiritually. We cannot just close our eyes."

Price says he simply tries to do what God calls on him to do. "The Bible tells us to pray and honor those who are in authority. I encourage my people to vote; we're very strong on that. The changes in the cities are going to happen with what people do, not by me getting involved," he said.

Said church member Barbara Crump: "The dome is not just a place for show; it's to change people's lives."

The white aluminum dome--located at the west end of the 28-acre church complex and visible from the Harbor Freeway--will likely join Garden Grove's Crystal Cathedral, pastored by the Rev. Robert Schuller, as a tourist sight. As striking as that glass church is, however, the Crystal Cathedral seats only 3,000 people. Only a couple of other Southern California churches seat 4,000.

Most Spacious Church

The FaithDome's 10,145 seats tops the nation's previously most-spacious churches--the 10,000-seat Assembly of God facilities in Lakeland, Fla., and Birmingham, Ala., according to John N. Vaughan, a "mega-church" researcher at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Mo.

When empty, the floor of the 320-foot-wide FaithDome resembles a huge, shallow pool. Blue, theater-style seats and carpeting fan out in a gentle upward slope from the central pulpit area. The center of the dome is about 75 feet high. A "sound cloud" device is suspended from the roof to absorb exterior noise, especially from airplanes approaching Los Angeles International Airport.

Crenshaw Christian Center bought the Pepperdine site in 1981, when the then-11,000-member congregation was outgrowing its Inglewood church. While the dome was being built, Price has led three services each Sunday morning in a renovated auditorium on the old campus, averaging a total of 4,500 worshipers.

Single Service Preferred

"Multiple services are horrendous," Price said. "The purpose of the building is to have one service. And if I can get 10,100 people into one service, that's more than we're doing now."

Would-be churchgoers said long lines and poor seating at the smaller auditorium discouraged them from attending Sunday services, Price said.

Many people have been introduced to Price's church through television. His weekly televised program now has the ninth-largest audience--430,000 viewers--among nationally syndicated religious shows monitored by Arbitron, a television rating company. The show is seen in the Los Angeles area at 8:30 a.m. Sunday on Channel 11.

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